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News, Nuggets and Longreads 03/05/2014

Bloke drinking beer.

Happy day, brothers and sisters! Here’s your Saturday morning reading sorted.

Thornbridge has been declared the best drinks producer in the UK by BBC Radio 4 Food Programme‘s Food and Farming awards. BrewDog came third. (The stories of both breweries are covered in some detail in Brew Britannia.)

→ Yvan Seth (who is now running a beer distribution business) has given some thought to how the cost of a pint breaks down.

(We’ve been brewing a post for while on a related subject: what impact might the introduction of the minimum wage and statutory holiday entitlement have had on the price of beer in the pub?)

→ News from Nick Mitchell of more single-hop ales from Marks & Spencer:

It did seem that the craft beer revolution had stopped being able to squeeze into its tight girl jeans and instead had pulled a nice comfy Blue Harbour rugby shirt over its growing paunch when Marks and Spencer started selling single-hopped beers…

Ushers sign

→ Saved to Pocket this week: Simon Usborne’s piece for the Independent on how the old Usher’s brewery ended up in North Korea.

→ Our new favourite blog is The Quest for Edelstoff in which a German living in the UK attempts to perfect the home brewing of Bavarian-style beers through perseverance and precision.

→ We’re looking forward to trying this historically-inspired beer at North Bar in Leeds when we make our appearance on 19 May:

→ And, finally, we’re no experts, doesn’t Jim Koch’s magic anti-drunkenness yeast goop only work, if and when it does, because of the placebo effect? Decide you’re not going to get drunk and you won’t? (Which goes the other way, too.)

Poll: the Provenance of Beer

This poll is now closed.

On Sunday, we drank a great pint of Camden Hells, but were slightly concerned that we didn’t know for sure whether the beer in our glass was brewed in the UK, or in Germany.

We want to know whether transparency about place of manufacture is important to other people, hence this small, extremely unscientific poll.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 01-01-1970 00:00:00
end_date 01-01-1970 00:00:00
Poll Results:
Do you think it is important for a brewery to declare where a beer is made?

The results of this poll fed into this blog post.

Peter Austin is Dead

Peter Austin, from CAMRA's What's Brewing, March 1986.

We’ve just heard that Peter Austin, founder of Ringwood Brewery, died yesterday. He was 92 years old.

We were lucky enough to correspond with Mr Austin last year, albeit briefly. He was charming, patient and very kind, despite his frailty. On the phone, he made it very clear that he didn’t have the energy for a long conversation, before proceeding to answer the questions we’d sent him by post with military precision:

I was born in North London and went to the Highgate School, which I left in 1935 when my family moved back to where it had originated, the New Forest. I then spent a couple of years on the HMS Conway on the River Mersey – the idea was a career at sea. I eventually went to sea with P&O and then joined the Royal Navy during World War II. I was invalided out rather early in the war… My father was a director of Pontifex & Sons who were big in producing steel fittings for breweries, until stainless came along, when they were a bit slow off the mark. Going into brewing wasn’t my idea – it was through my father’s connections. He got me a pupillage with Roland Storey at the Friary Brewery in Guildford in Surrey… After my pupillage, I went to the Hull Brewery as third brewer.

After retiring in the late seventies, he got dragged back into the world of brewing because, as he was happy to admit, he needed the money.

His first triumph was building and getting established the Penrhos Brewery on behalf of Martin Griffiths, Terry ‘Python’ Jones and writer Richard Boston. He then launched his own brewery, Ringwood, in 1978, and thereafter came to be the ‘go to’ guy for advice on setting up similar operations.

When David Bruce was setting up his first Firkin brewpub in 1979, it was Austin who vetted his designs for a miniature basement brewkit. The two were both founder members of SIBA, which then stood for The Small Independent Brewers Association, and Austin was its first Chair.

He was particularly proud of his contributions to SIBA’s submission to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which fed into the Beer Orders of 1989.

Throughout the eighties, as well as running Ringwood,  Between 1978 and 1986, he installed 32 breweries in England, as well as many more in the far corners of the world, often working alongside another famous name in UK brewing, Brendan Dobbin.

We’ll raise a pint to him at the earliest opportunity.

There’s a detailed piece about Austin’s career by Brian Glover in the Summer 2013 edition of CAMRA’s BEER magazine which is well worth reading.

Jonathan Meades on Beer

Ray Ban sunglassesSource: John McStravick, via Flickr Creative Commons.

9781908717184We’re very grateful to commenter BT for suggesting that we read Jonathan Meades’ essay ‘Pint Sized’, written in 1994 and collected with other pieces in Museum Without Walls (2012).

It is a rare treat to read something substantial about pubs and beer by someone who is not A Beer Writer, not least because, though he apparently thinks beer important, he does not love it unconditionally.

Writing of a childhood ‘spent… in pub car parks’, Meades recalls thinking that the adult world, as represented by the bar where is father and uncles drank, was ‘bad, stale, fungal, fusty’. Those xenophobic uncles considered beer a sacred part of Englishness, along with Vaughan Williams and G.K. Chesterton:

The Boy’s First Pint was about as close as middle-class, middle-century, middle-England got to the bar mitzvah.

Meades’ uncle was, it turns out, town clerk of Burton-upon-Trent, which recollection prompts this wonderful passage:

He and the councillors he despised and the brewers he sucked up to would have seen no virtues in hundred-year-old-industrial buildings. Especially not in the white heat of the Keg Era: that sort of beer, no nicer and no nastier than the preceding stuff, I thought then, was the brewing industry’s contribution to ’60s neophilia. This was the beer of the future. Soon the world would be all monorails and robots… And we’d toast our success in Red Barrel and Party Sixes…

Beer, he goes on to argue, is an ineffectual intoxicant; it makes British people poorly, because it is just nourishing enough to stop them eating while they down pint after pint; and wine is in many ways a better drink.

And yet, he concludes, to drink anything else in ‘deepest England’ would be ‘an act of ingestive treachery, dead wrong’. Beer is part of Britain, and Meades has apparently come round to his uncles’ way of thinking.

Elsewhere in the same anthology (we have not read it all yet) opponents of the term ‘craft beer’ might find useful ammo in Meades’ railing against classification and style frameworks in creative endeavours. ‘Do not judge by genre but by accomplishment’, he writes, and then quotes Duke Ellington: ‘The question is not whether it’s jazz music or whether it’s classical music but whether it’s good music.’

We bought Museum Without Walls in the Amazon Kindle store for £6.83. Isn’t the cover dreadful?

Stuttgart: Beer is not the Main Event

Sign advertising Dinkelacker CD-Pils in Stuttgart.

In Frankfurt, we’re told, Apfelwein is the thing to drink rather then the rather bland local pilsners. Similarly Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, is surrounded by vineyards, and seems more proud of its wine than its beer.

Nonetheless, there are several breweries in town, and even more brewery brands (takeovers), and so plenty to keep a beer geek entertained, if not necessarily happy, for a few days.

We know from our own experience that German city brewpubs are often disappointing, with sweet, yeasty beers that make us long for a properly made lager, however bland. Ron Pattinson’s European Beer Guide gave us no reason to expect differently of Stuttgart, but — the curse of the beer freak — we just had to find out for ourselves.

There’s not much to say about Calwer Eck‘s beer other than it was soupy, sweet and rather amateurish. The stronger, barley-water-like Braumeister (5.5% ABV) had marginally more character than the ‘naturtrübes’ pils (5%), but that isn’t necessarily a recommendation. (The food wasn’t much good either, including schnitzels which we guessed came from a packet in the deep freeze, and a ‘beer sauce’ which tasted suspiciously like instant gravy.)

We found Sophie’s Brauhaus a little more enjoyable, which isn’t saying much. From the outside, it looked like a knocking shop (red neon…) but inside, we found a reasonably cosy space full of excitable students, mostly drinking rather than eating. The pleasant pub-like atmosphere compelled us to stay for a second round, after which whatever charms we had found in the beer (the novelty of a Schwarzbier, and one that actually tasted dark, perhaps?) began to fade.

Sign advertising Stuttgarter Hofbrau.

Despite the ubiquity of huge glowing signs advertising Stuttgarter Hofbräu, we didn’t see their pils for sale anywhere other than fast food joints and at the football stadium. If anyone knows the story behind why this might be the case, we’d love to hear it. (Something to do with being owned by Radeberger, perhaps?)

Schwaben Brau Das Schwarze beer.The fact that we didn’t stumble upon any Schwaben Bräu is perhaps more understandable: the brewery merged with another local giant, Dinkelacker, some years ago, and, though SB beers are still brewed, they seem to be ‘second stringers’. The exception is the classy, coffeeish ‘Das Schwarze’, which was a favourite of Michael Jackson’s, and is on sale at the Dinkelacker brewery tap (a plasticky place on Tübingerstrasse) alongside a slightly-hazy Kellerpils under the Cluss brand (fancy delicate glass, distinct strawberry-leaf hoppiness) and a solid set of ‘Sanwald’ wheat beers.

Dinkelacker’s own brand is reserved for the mainstream big-sellers, CD and Privat, both perfectly pleasant pilsners at 4.9% and 5.1% respectively, with the emphasis firmly on golden-syrup-maltiness. Not hugely exciting, but not utterly bland either, and certainly not nasty.

It felt odd to be in a German city where beer is treated either as a replacement for water, or a sideshow to wine, which has its own museum and designated walking route, but we know, really, that Germany is far too large and complex to be summed up simply as a ‘beer country’.